Synema Synopsis: The Tree of Life

Pitt  plays a father thrilled to see his boy is "packin' heat"


By Matt Orlove


The Tree of Life

*** ½

Director Terrence Malick, is considered by many to be the one of the most enigmatic directors of all time, as well as one of the best. In a career that spans almost 40 years, he has directed only five films.  To some that may seem underachieving, but for a moment, examine the work he has put out:

Badlands (1973) – Preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress

Days of Heaven (1978) – Academy Award for Best Cinematography.  Best Director Award at 1979 Cannes Film Fest.  Best Director by the National Society of Film Critics.  Preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

The Thin Red Line (1998) – 7 Academy Award Nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Cinematography.  Best Film at the 1999 Berlin International Film Festival.  Best Cinematography by the National Society of Film Critics.

The New World (2005) – Nominated for 2005 Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

His latest film, The Tree of Life, may actually be his greatest achievement.  Already winning the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, this film is a visually stunning masterpiece that will put you in a 2 ½ hour trance.

Brad brings home three Valentine's "Gifts" for Angie

To understand Mallick though, you can’t go into the theatre expecting a normal narrative film.  His films are heavy, deep, and often poetic.  Writer Chris Wisniewski said it best about his movies:

“Those rambling philosophical voiceovers; the placid image of nature, offering quiet contrast to the evil deeds of man; the stunning cinematography, often achieved with natural light; the striking use of music – here is a filmmaker with a clear sensibility and aesthetic who makes narrative films that are neither literary nor theatrical, in the sense of foregrounding dialogue, event, or character, but are instead principally cinematic, movies that suggest narrative, emotion, and idea through image and sound.”

The film opens in 1950’s Waco, Texas, where Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain, in a career making turn), learns that her 19-year-old son has passed away.  After notifying her husband (Brad Pitt), we are thrown into a world of grief as they deal with the loss of their boy.

The white kids even get preferential treatment in the Pitt-Jolie household

However, unlike the films, In the Bedroom or last year’s Rabbit Hole, this is not a movie about a family coping with the loss of a child, but rather, a surrealist look at life and everything around us.  By intricately weaving space and time, Malick brings us back to the beginning to experience everything from the creation of the Earth to perhaps, the afterlife.

The film flips back and forth, in a matter of seconds, from 1950’s Texas to present day NYC, where one of the sons, Jack (Sean Penn) is now a successful, yet unhappy architect, reflecting on his childhood.  We are able to understand his demeanor from watching his upbringing as a child.  Although Penn is fantastic in the role, his minutes on screen are few; he serves mainly as a catalyst to examine how a man comes to be the man he is.

"Man, those were some goooood shrooms."

This movie is a thinking person’s film.  Malick dares you to open your eyes and look at the beauty and evil that is all around us including; life, death, heaven, nature, loss of innocence, violence, family, and love.  Although I have yet to experience being a parent, a picture is painted perfectly of what I have to look forward to.

A line in the film that really sums up the entire picture is when Mrs. O’Brian says to her son, “The only way to be happy is to love.  If you don’t love, your life will pass before you.”  If you are prepared to take this trip of a film as I was, you should leave the theatre with this same sentiment.



  1. Very well written—now I want to see the movie. The Miami Hearld review did not wet my appetit as you did. Thanks looking forward to seeing you soon. Teeny

    • So glad to hear that. Let me know what you think.

  2. great, personal way of reviewing, Matt…Ive loved your view of the three Ive seen and agreed with you each time after seeing them…

    • Thanks Barbara. More to come…

  3. The Tree of Life was a must see on my movie list before reading this review.
    Receiving the note from Merle and reading Matt’s review means FOR SURE –I cannot miss this movie.
    Rhoda Levitt

  4. Way to go Matt. I really got a good idea of what I will see if the pic comes to a theater near me. Clearly written by a knowledgable reviewer,you are now on my list of critics to check before I go!